Democracy Under Construction: Patterns From Four Continents
Reviewer: Charles A. Robinson
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The various paths of democratisation have taken many and varied forms over the history of the implementation and improvement of democratic procedures and institutions. For those of us lucky enough to have lived under the established democracies of North America and much of Europe, problems of democratic renewal are very much on the contemporary agenda. For example, Britain is currently undertaking a dialogue concerning a legitimacy and trust deficit that has opened up in the wake of parliamentary scandals over expenses, a dialogue made all the more pressing in the context of a declining interest in parliamentary politics over the last twenty or so years.
However, a whole set of problems face countries characterised as undergoing, as Samuel Huntington has put it, a "Third Wave" of democratisation. Beginning, according to this volume's editor, Ursula van Beek, in 1974 and gathering momentum after 1989, the various authors of this interesting and engaging volume argue that the countries undergoing this Third Wave share certain commonalities, even if the differences are often striking.
The authors focus their attentions on five specific Third Wave countries, namely South Africa, Poland, (East) Germany, South Korea, and Chile, and offer a comparative analysis that in many ways can be read as a series of regional comparisons. The authors are well aware of the potential difficulties associated with such an analysis, and, as such, devote an early chapter to the theoretical and methodological challenges posed by such an undertaking. The focus here is on the attitudes and behaviour of normal citizens engaged in the democratic process itself, rather than merely on the functioning of formal institutions. The authors are aware that democratic institutions can only become an important part of the political landscape if they have a positive effect on people's norms and values.
In analysing processes of democratisation across such a diverse range of regions and specific countries, the authors focus on four distinct but interrelated areas: political society, economic society, civil society, and, interestingly, historical memory. These four aspects come together to offer an analysis that will be of interest not only to political scientists, but also to theoreticians concerned with recent developments in democratic theory and, more specifically, the relationship between the democratic norms and values of citizens - at the level of political and civil society - and the prospects for new democracies to deepen and widen their democratic institutions. For example, readers of Jürgen Habermas will be familiar with the idea that new democratic institutions must be met half-way by an already liberal - or at least conducive - political society, as reflected in the attitudes and beliefs of the citizens who are to become the subjects and authors of the outcomes of the democratic process. As such, civil society must be ready to absorb the burdens that democratic enfranchisement entails for normal citizens.
In this way, historical memory takes on an important role. What, many of the contributors ask, is the historical experience of citizens who, until recently, have been familiar with varying degrees of authoritarianism, and how do these historical memories factor into processes of democratisation and the consolidation of democratic institutions?
Nevertheless, the authors remain cautiously optimistic that solutions can be found, perhaps in the drafting of constitutions and "founding documents" that emphasise the democratic spirit and hopefulness that characterise these relatively new democracies. Jorge Heine, in his chapter, focuses on the issue of constitutional design and implementation, he argues that, despite the attendant risks of such projects, undertaken in Poland and South Africa, but not in Chile, there is a risk worth taking. The example of Germany here is instructive. In an attempt to break with the past, with the historical memory of Nazism, Germany attempted, through its constitution, to emphasise the values of freedom, equality, and democracy as a bulwark against potential relapses. Of course, the extent to which an entity can overcome its own inglorious past is moot, and a subject for empirical analysis. In part, this is a question of the attitudes of citizens towards the previous autocratic regime or regimes, which can often be positive. How then can democratic institutions take root in such seemingly infertile soil? This subject is tackled in the chapter by Hans-Dieter Klingemann. He asserts that the longer democracy exists in any particular country, the better the chances are that citizens will eventually accept the terms set out by post- and anti-autocratic parties and groups. Markowski, in his contribution, argues that the ideal of democracy can take root, even if it leads to a certain degree of dissatisfaction with the actual or perceived functioning of democratic institutions as they fail to live up to the standards codified in some ideal procedural account.
In terms of arguments concerning the relationship between economic restructuring and the legal institutionalization of democracy, Philip Mohr argues, against more conventional theories such as those of Lipset, that economic development is not the crucial factor in helping democracy take root, and also that the success of democratic development does not require (or is not necessarily accompanied by) standard models of economic restructuring. Each of the countries under consideration takes its own economic path, depending on the previous economic structures that have been inherited by the new democratic political society and elites. Also, as Habermas has noted time and again, democracy also functions to restrict the excesses of the state and the market. Democratic institutions monitor and hold in check the former by preventing incursions into market-driven sectors of the economy and by making sure that there is public knowledge and discussion of government policies, and the latter by guaranteeing that the instrumental logic of the free market does not invade spheres to which that logic is inappropriate or inapplicable. Here, Mohr concentrates more on democracy's role in restricting the actions of the state.
This places a heavy burden on civil society, for if, as noted above, civil society is not at least conducive to the introduction and consolidation of democratic institutions, the task for democrats can be more difficult. Kotze and du Toit argue that, following Bourdieu and others, social capital remains an important explanatory tool, and especially the related notions of trust and tolerance, which underpin societal interactions between citizens. Again, old habits die hard, and, as Rüsen points out, past experiences will always dictate to some degree the path that democratisation will take. Reminiscent of the German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer, Rüsen emphasises the power of tradition, although it is also pointed out that we can overcome and work through bitter memories of authoritarianism, and that the process itself is cathartic and offers hope for renewal and that an end can be brought to old hostilities in the attempt to forge a new future that avoids old mistakes.
In conclusion, the various contributors to this volume offer different accounts of a number of different countries in terms of a number of criteria. Yet the underlying threads, both empirical and philosophical, tie things together well. Especially, the emphasis on historical memory is considered and interesting, and will be of interest to scholars from different disciplines. Students of the empirical study of democracy in countries dealing with difficult pasts will find it of importance in their studies, and will be able to apply the ideas and theoretical frameworks on offer in their own research.